The Unicorn Scale: Borderlands

By Damian Emba

October 07, 2020


Photo credit: Photo/2K Games

In the 16+ years that I've been playing video games, it never occurred to me to look for queer representation in the games I played. The fact that I never noticed such representation let me know how scarce it that representation has been in the world of video games. I was super pleased to find that one of the most fun games I have ever played is also super queer-inclusive. If like me, you like RPG/first-person shooters, the Borderlands franchise might just be the perfect match for you. 

The franchise, which includes Borderlands (2009), Borderlands 2 (2012), Borderlands: The Pre Sequel (2014), and Borderlands 3 (2019), was created by Gearbox Software and published by 2K Games. I've noticed that 2K has been one of the most queer-inclusive publishers since the beginning and it has only become more so over the years. 

Photo/2K Games

The games focus on a group of mercenaries fighting against corporations or megalomaniac characters that want to conquer the entire universe. The playable characters are often vault hunters, and throughout the story, you learn more about vaults and the vault hunters. You follow a collection of characters throughout the titles as the story continues to advance, although there isn't a central protagonist. 

The games are characterized and acclaimed for their loot-obsessed adventure mode and violent approach to nearly any interaction. The artistic direction has become iconic to the franchise, and even though it is a very violent game, the artistry makes the violence easier to digest. The humorous, ironic, and over-the-top dialogue is also fantastic. The whole thing is an over-stimulating, trigger-smashing romp that my ADHD loves. 

Enough about the games, let's get to the bi representation. For those of you who aren't familiar with The Unicorn Scale, here's a quick recap of how it works. 

What I Liked: 

In the hundreds of hours I've spent playing these games, I've been constantly impressed by the queer characters. Even better is that whenever fans have speculated about character's sexuality outside of the games, the developer and publisher have clarified and confirmed their characters' sexuality, never trying to erase or secretly code their queerness. This story is about a civilization that has figured out interstellar travel, it's hardly surprising that they don't particularly care about who is romantically interested in who. The easiest way to show this game's great representation is to talk about some of the characters. 

Moxxi - Photo/2K Games

Moxxi is an NPC (non-player character) that has been in every game in the franchise. She's sexy, charming, and very loud and proud about her attraction to men and women. She flirts with many characters throughout the games. When you visit her at the bar she owns, she will tell stories for days about all the people she's dated. 

Axton - Photo/2K Games

Axton is one of the 6 playable characters in Borderlands 2. He was in the military and married to a woman. He ends up divorcing his wife, leaving the military, and becoming a Vault Hunter. Through an error in the code, it turns out that Axton can flirt with men or women while reviving them. Yes, he flirts with folks bleeding out on the ground. Rather than "correct" the code, the writer simply added more dialogue acknowledging that Axton is bi. 

Tiny Tina is a fan favorite NPC. She first appears in Borderlands 2 as an unstable teenage girl who likes to create massive explosives shaped like bunnies. She talks about her attraction to Maya and Moxxi, but later in Borderlands 3, there are side missions where she talks about her ex-boyfriends. There's another side mission dedicated to retrieving her weird looking dog from her girlfriend. She has no shame in sharing her attraction to all of the Vault Hunters.

Mister Torgue is another NPC and the founder of one of the gun companies in the game. He first appears in "Carnage of Blood", the second DLC (downloadable content) for Borderlands 2. Regardless of the gender of the character that you are playing, Mister Torgue will flirt with you. I also find his dialogue some of the funniest and his love for murder and mayhem might be the most endearing quality that he has. 

Zane Flynt is an Irish mercenary that loves high-tech killing toys. He's a playable Vault Hunter in Borderlands 3. While we haven't heard anything official from the creators about Zane's sexuality, I personally have heard him flirting with men and women in the game. My bi mind is going to assume that a character who expresses any interest in more than one gender is bi. 

What I Didn't Like: 

We all know the stereotypes about the deceitful mentally unstable bi villains who will happily seduce or murder anyone to achieve their goals. Although Borderlands has these characters, it's hard to hold it against the game because everyone— and I mean everyone— in the game is a blood-driven killer. 

Gaige - Photo/2K Games

Every one of these bi characters is well developed with great dialogue and fun main and side missions that let you get to know them. The normalization of queerness in The Borderlands franchise is one that I would love to see in other media, because no one questions or blinks an eye when a character expresses the same, different, or more than one attraction or sexual orientation in the game. 

In addition to the great bi-cast, Janey Spring and Athena are lesbians, while Sir Hammerlock and Wainwright Jakobs are gay. Same-sex marriage is the whole premise of "Guns, Love, and Tentacles: The Marriage of Wainwright & Hammerlock" the second DLC of Borderlands 3

Between humans, robots, and other sentient beings, we are given an incredibly diverse view of the universe, which only makes sense considering the size of the universe. 

The Rating: 

The Borderlands franchise has given me a world in which I can get lost for hours replaying the games over and over. It never gets old. Even after finishing the main story, you can go back and replay them and still have ours of button-smashing, tongue-in-cheek fun working your way through the side missions. The degree to which a diversity of sexual orientations was normalized is truly incredible and left me wishing more popular media would do as well. 


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